Have you ever wondered when to choose three or four fins on your surfboard? We connected with Jud Lau who is a surfer and shaper on Maui, Hawaii. In this article Jud breaks it down and gives his personal opinion, as a board shaper, on quads vs thrusters.
First came the Thruster then the Quad?
Simon Anderson invented the Thruster (3-fin) setup in 1980. This has been the standard for performance surfboards ever since. The Quad (4-fin) setup was invented around the same time. However it is difficult to find any details on who exactly is credited or precisely when the first quad setup was used. Through the 80’s and 90’s, quads were something like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, you heard about them, but never really saw one. However in the past 5-10 years, the Quad setup has become a reality and you see them quite often, and some surfers even ride quads exclusively.
Basically, a Quad setup is generally faster than the Thruster setup, but with any change in surfboard design, you are always giving up something to gain something else. So with the change from a Thruster to a Quad you are giving up control for added speed. Thrusters turn much better than Quads, they give the rider much more control when putting the board on rail and transitioning from one rail to another while connecting turns and maneuvers.
Conclusions – Quads vs Thrusters
However, like any part of the surfboard, there are endless variables that will change the way the board moves through the water, thereby changing the way it feels under your feet. Fins are no exception. So depending on where exactly the 3 fins, or 4 fins are placed on the board (how far from the tail, how far from the stringer, or the rail, and how spread apart they are), how much the side fins are toed (aimed toward stringer) and cantered (leaning towards the rail) will all affect the performance. And then there is the size of the fins themselves, front and rear. For Quads the rear fins are always smaller than the front, while for Thrusters the rear is sometimes the same size as the front but sometimes a bit smaller than the front and occasionally a lot smaller than the front. Then there is the shape or outline of the fins and the foil (inside and outside curve) of the fins; for a long time the inside of side fins did not have a foil, they were flat, however, over the past 10 years there has been a lot of experimentation with the use of concave foils on the inside of side fins to increase speed and lift, something like airplane wings.
And that’s just the beginning! Personally, I think Quads are advantageous in certain specialty areas: for massive surf like Waimea, Mavericks, or Peahi where you are not really doing the same kind of rail to rail surfing like normal sized waves, for really, really fast or super gnarly barreling waves where you are pretty much just going straight and speed is your friend, and sometimes for specialty boards for super small weak waves where you need a board that generates speed really easily. Otherwise I prefer Thrusters for most normal surfing.
Follow Jud Lau Surfboards